Sometimes the trip getting somewhere means as much if not more than the destination and driving the back roads of Virginia on the way to Hungry Mother State Park showed exactly what I mean.
After leaving Walnut Flats Campground in the Jefferson National Forest, I wanted to see Virginia and not the high speed lanes of an expressway. Too often we take the fastest way to a place, but not the way that will tell us what we want to know; just where we are and who the people are that live there.
From the campground I continued west on SR 42, which winds through the rolling valleys of this section of the Appalachian Mountains. When you look at a satellite view in my Google Maps of the area, you see how these people carved a life for themselves in the valley, between the shoulders of the mountains that stand on either side of their homes.
Mile after mile there were farms where crops grew and horses ran free in the fields as the small ribbon of road passed through the very soul of this region. This is the Virginia as it has been since it was first called “The Mountain Empire of Virginia”.
There are a myriad of small towns along the road. Many were unnamed, but each had a cemetery with grave stones dating back into times past and a church, always a church with a peaked steeple reaching towards the sky.
For some perhaps driving a country road could be boring, but for a “flat lander” like me from Michigan, the views I saw were awe inspiring.
As you continue down SR 42 you pass through the small town of Bland which is where you make the choice, freeway or back road and I chose the latter. After a few miles more of this beautiful country road, SR 42 begins climbing out of the valley, eventually reaching the top of Molly’s Knob.
On the last three miles of road, a sign reads, “15 mph next 3 Miles”, and it is not exaggerating. The twists and turns of the road on the side of the mountain were stunning. On one side you have the solid rock of the mountain and on the other, nothing but a line of trees and then open space as the slope dropped away from the road.
The three miles was one of the longest and most beautiful I have ever driven. I have been on the roads in the Rocky Mountains, with its stark beauty, but here in the Appalachians the land is covered with a blanket of green. The road turned so sharp that driving 15 mph was too fast and at one point, the slope was such that even my video camera slid off the dash, making for a video that looked as though I had driven off a cliff.
Then you reach the top and the view is one of those where you say you can see forever. Stretching before me were the mountains and valleys in a stunning display that seemed almost unreal. And on the side of that road, a single sign that read “Hungry Mother State Park”.
This is the way an area should be seen, a drive through the heart and soul of the region with a look at the small homes, farms and ranches along the way. It made the arrival at Hungry Mother State Park almost anti-climatic.
But arriving at the park was not what was important. It was the trip there that told me all I needed to know about this part of Virginia.
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